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On the ballot: Measure 110 would decriminalize drug use and use marijuana tax dollars to fund treatment

Oregon Ballot Measure 110 proposes a major change in the way the state handles drug addiction.

If passed, it would move the state away from handling drug abuse as a criminal matter and toward handling it as a public health problem.

It would also make Oregon the first state to make such a dramatic change to its drug laws.

Measure 110 is the fourth of four statewide measures on the ballot in November.

If passed, Measure 110 would decriminalize possession of personal use amounts of drugs, converting current misdemeanor crimes to citations with a $100 fine and no threat of jail time. The fine would be waived if the person sought treatment.

It would also divert marijuana tax dollars into the creation of new drug addiction treatment centers.

Supporters said the measure could dramatically decrease drug addiction in Oregon, and reduce associated crimes. Opponents fear it would backfire, leading to more drug-related crime and other unintended consequences.

One thing’s clear: Oregon has a serious problem with drug addiction. According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1 in 10 adult Oregonians has a substance abuse disorder.

Nearly two people per day on average die of drug overdoses, according to the Oregon Health Authority. And the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission found that 281,758 Oregonians needed treatment within the past year and were unable to get it.

Measure 110 Chief Petitioner Haven Wheelock works with people with drug addictions. As a drug user health services program coordinator for the Portland nonprofit Outside In, she is in charge of the organization’s syringe access and overdose prevention efforts. It’s a job she’s been in since 2002. She also earned a master’s degree through a fellowship from Johns Hopkins University. Her focus was overdose and addiction policy.

Wheelock told The News-Review Monday it’s time for a change.

“The system we have in place right now hasn’t worked. In the last 100 years, we’ve been trying, it’s not been working. And really, part of what’s so exciting for me is this is a chance to try something really new,” she said.

She said decriminalization and treatment is a better choice than jail. The chances addicts will die of an overdose are 15 times higher after a stint in jail than if they were never arrested, she said.

In her experience, what alters people’s behavior isn’t feeling they have to hide, or the threat of jail. It’s knowing they have the tools and access to change, she said.

“I don’t believe we have to punish people to get them to change behaviors. I think that just by the misery that comes with a substance abuse disorder, people want to change. It’s just really hard and really scary,” she said.

Wheelock said the measure is based on the Portuguese model. It’s been about two decades since Portugal decriminalized all drugs. She said research in Portugal and other countries that have since decriminalized drugs indicates they have reduced crime rates, increased rates of people obtaining treatment, and reduced rates of both addiction and problems like overdose and HIV transmission that come with it.

In a letter, a group of Yes on 110 political action committee directors argued arresting people for drug use leads to broken families and lost jobs.

“But worse than arrests are the resulting criminal records, which ruining people’s lives, sometimes haunting them forever,” they wrote.

Those records routinely stop people from getting jobs, promotions, housing, student loans and professional licenses, they said, and all that added stress can drive people to use drugs even more.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin opposes the measure.

“I think having some drug addiction treatment and recovery programs is a responsible action, but I think decriminalizing the possession of certain scheduled drugs is very irresponsible,” he said.

While the measure’s supporters anticipate lowered law enforcement costs if it passes, Hanlin doesn’t.

While they might spend less time investigating drug possession crimes, 80% or 90% of the county’s property crimes are related to drug addiction, he said.

“In my mind decriminalizing the possession of drugs is only going to allow or cause more people to use, because there’s no longer a fear of getting caught or getting in trouble,” he said.

And that, he believes, would lead to a larger number of people with addictions.

He also said after marijuana was legalized, police saw an increase in people driving under the influence of marijuana.

“Now we’re going to have to worry about these users of psilocybin mushrooms and heroin and all the other illicit or controlled substances that are out there that people may partake in and get behind the wheel of a car,” he said.

ADAPT Director Greg Brigham said he supports the goals of the measure, but he doesn’t think the proposal will work. He’s worried it would cause a disruption in the pathway to treatment.

Many people currently receive substance use disorder treatment as a result of their involvement in the criminal justice system, he said.

“My main concern with the proposition is that if we remove consequences of drug use without building other pathways to treatment, the net result will be fewer people getting treatment, and thus fewer in recovery,” he said.

He does not believe the ballot box is the place to fix a problem like substance abuse.

“I really think it’s a complex enough matter and important enough that it needs to be worked through the regular legislative process so the issue can be properly studied and the strategy can be vetted to achieve the goal,” he said.

Wheelock said the Legislature has had years to fix the problem and hasn’t done it.

“There’s no better way to have the Legislature invest in doing that than have the citizens of this state say we need this,” she said.

Douglas High School opens to in-person learning under special exception from Oregon Department of Education

WINSTON — Douglas High School received a special exception from the Oregon Department of Education to start in-person learning, despite not meeting the state guidance.

Scott Nine, ODE assistant superintendent of education innovation and improvement, said it was the first specific exemption that had been granted to a school district, but that “a very small group of districts most immediately impacted by wildfires” would also be provided exemptions.

Students within the Glide School District who were displaced by area wildfires will be able to attend in-person school under an emergency waiver, Glide Superintendent Mike Narkiewicz said Tuesday morning. The school district is reviewing the data to see how many students were displaced

“In general, ODE does not have an extraordinary waiver or exception to exceptions process,” Nine said. He later added, “ODE has worked district-by-district in the county to reach a shared understanding on how to apply the metrics framework and document their current operating status. In the case of Winston-Dillard, the Governor and ODE agreed that a very specific exception was the best way to proceed. The metrics framework remains critical and the state is trying to balance consistency and clear expectations while navigating nuanced details in local community settings.”

The exception for Douglas High School, which is in the Winston-Dillard School District, was granted following a Saturday afternoon meeting between Gov. Kate Brown, her senior staff, ODE Director Colt Gill, Douglas Public Health Officer Bob Dannenhoffer, Winston-Dillard School District Director of Instructional Services Rob Boye and school board vice chair Brian West. Winston-Dillard School District Superintendent Kevin Miller and board chair Lorna Quimby were on separate hunting trips and could not attend Saturday’s meeting.

“It was productive to problem-solve together and develop a better understanding of your plans and the current physical limitations of Douglas High School (DHS) in the Winston-Dillard School District (WDSD),” Gill wrote in a letter to the district. “It is the Governor’s priority to return to in-person instruction as soon as we can do so with safety and stability.”

Gill wrote that Dannenhoffer “expressed support for WDSD being one of the few places in Douglas County where he could currently support any new expansion of in-person instruction” during the meeting.

The high school will operate on a hybrid schedule, based on the last name of the student. Monday was the first day of school for students with last names starting with A through L, and students with last names starting with M through Z started Tuesday.

Principal Craig Anderson said Tuesday morning, “It was electric yesterday and I think today’s going to be the same.”

On both first days of school, parents and community members held up signs to greet the students and thank the teachers for going back to school.

“We’re supporting the teachers that are willing to come and teach our kids, and supporting the kids who are coming back to school,” Crystal Mickel said. She later added, “My sophomore has not been excited about school since kindergarten. And knowing that he got to go back this week, he was just like ‘I just want to be back in school.’ He just wants to go back to school and see his friends and his teachers.”

Student Tristen Ronk said, “It feels very different. I think there’s going to be a much more hands on approach, but there’s going to be a lot more rules set in place. So it’s going to be unpredictable what’s going to happen.”

He added that he was happy to see his classmates and get a bit more structure in his day.

His mother, Mande Ronk, is involved with the booster club and helped organize the welcome back to school event.

Anderson said it made him feel good to see the support of the community and was impressed that there were as many people on Tuesday as there were on Monday.

On Monday there were 136 students in school and Anderson expected a similar number of students Tuesday. Students also have the option to continue with full-time distance learning.

During Saturday’s meeting between state and local officials, it was clarified that there would be no more than 250 students on campus at any time, the school is considered rural and more than 8 miles from the nearest school serving the same grades, the county case rate is below 30 per 100,000 and Dannenhoffer said there are no COVID-19 cases in the zip codes served by the school district, according to a letter from Gill.

West said the construction at the high school made it impossible for more than 250 students to attend school. Anderson said the Adroid construction crews continued to work hard to ensure student safety and that it did not impact the first day of classes.

Staff members at Douglas High School called in sick for the freshman orientation that had been scheduled for last Thursday and the orientation was canceled as a result. Staff members had talked about calling in sick Monday as well to make the community and administration aware of their concerns for their health and safety.

Anderson said there were a few people who were sick, including one with an underlying condition and he didn’t think these were people who were sick as a protest.

“There was a lot of hearsay, but when it came down to it they all showed up,” Anderson said. “I think it shows their true professionalism. We have a good staff.”

Mickel said she was surprised, but happy to hear that the staff showed up to teach.

The school board met in executive session Monday, which was closed to the public, to discuss current litigation or litigation likely to be filed. West said one of the items that was to be discussed was the ODE guidance, but that had been resolved. He said there was another matter on their agenda, but did not feel comfortable revealing any additional information.

West said the school board had not been officially informed of any concerns by the teacher’s union.

Douglas High School staff sent a letter to Miller last week in which they wrote, “While the entire staff at DHS appreciates the work and care the district administration has put into the reopening process, the vast majority of the staff do not feel comfortable returning to in-person at this time.”

The staff included a review of the health metrics by the state’s teacher union, Oregon Education Association, which outlined that the school does not meet the guidelines to reopen.

Gill acknowledged in his letter that the school district had been misinformed about the state guidelines for reopening to in-person learning.

The Winston-Dillard school board approved a plan for a staggered reopening for in-person learning on Sept. 9, when the county met the metrics for reopening. The board was informed by Douglas Public Health Network that they could set reopening dates for the future, regardless of how the metrics might change in the future, which was not accurate according to Gill.

ODE became aware of the misunderstanding on Sept. 17 and had a meeting with superintendents throughout the county, including Miller, on Sept. 23.

The school district had also misunderstood how the metrics would impact schools. According to Gill, the district thought “the metrics applied to the district and not the school. That was not accurate.” This information was also cleared up on Sept. 23.

Nine said it’s a collective responsibility between ODE, Douglas Public Health Network, the governor’s office, school board and school leaders to make sure they understand the metrics.

“Given the unique circumstances outlined above, including an acknowledgment that if the board and superintendent had the right understanding of the metrics framework on September 9th they would be operating fully in person, ODE is documenting a specific exception that allows DHS to open to in-person instruction in the Hybrid Instructional Model.”

Doctors: Trump not longer experiencing symptoms

WASHINGTON — Still sickened by COVID-19, President Donald Trump plunged back on Tuesday into playing down the disease that hospitalized him for three days and has so far killed more than 210,000 Americans. He compared it anew to the seasonal flu and signaled he plans to return soon to the campaign trail.

Back at the White House after a dramatic helicopter return from the military hospital where he was receiving an unprecedented level of care for COVID-19, Trump’s attitude alarmed infectious disease experts. And it suggested his own illness had not caused him to rethink his often-cavalier attitude toward the disease, which has also infected the first lady and more than a dozen White House aides and associates.

Anxious to project strength just four weeks from Election Day, Trump, who is still contagious with the virus, tweeted Tuesday morning that he is planning to attend next week’s debate with Democrat Joe Biden in Miami. “It will be great!” he said.

Trump’s doctors have not provided an update on his condition since Monday afternoon, shortly before his departure from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His physician, Navy Cmdr. Sean Conley, offered then that the president would not be fully “out of the woods” for another week.

Trump returned to the White House Monday night aboard Marine One, gingerly climbing the South Portico steps before removing his mask and giving a double thumbs-up from the terrace, where aides had arranged American flags for the sunset occasion. He entered the White House, where aides were visible milling about the Blue Room, without wearing a face covering.

In a video released later, Trump offered a nonchalant take on the virus, contravening the public health warnings of his own administration that Americans take the threat seriously and to take precautions to avoid contracting and spreading the disease as cases continue to spike across the country.

On Tuesday, Trump also returned to his previous comparisons of COVID-19 to the seasonal flu.

“Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu,” he tweeted. “Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!”

In fact, COVID-19 has already proven to be a more potent killer, particularly among older populations, than seasonal flu, and has shown indications of having long-term impacts on the health of younger people it infects.

Just days before, Trump suggested he had finally grasped the true nature of the virus, saying in a video, “I get it,” moments before he ventured out of the hospital while contagious to salute cheering supporters by motorcade — an outing that disregarded precautions meant to contain the virus.

Trump’s efforts to play down the threat of the virus in hopes of propping up the economy ahead of the election have drawn bipartisan criticism.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that Trump had “let his guard down.”

in his effort to show that the country was moving beyond the virus and had created “confusion” about how to stay safe.

“We have to be realistic in this: COVID is a complete threat to the American population,” Dr. David Nace of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said of Trump’s comment.

“Most of the people aren’t so lucky as the president,” with an in-house medical unit and access to experimental treatments, added Nace, an expert on infections in older adults.

“It’s an unconscionable message,” agreed Dr. Sadiya Khan of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “I would go so far as to say that it may precipitate or worsen spread.”

Likewise, Biden, who spent more than 90 minutes on the debate stage with Trump last week, said during an NBC town hall Monday night that he was glad Trump seemed to be recovering well, “but there’s a lot to be concerned about — 210,000 people have died. I hope no one walks away with the message that it’s not a problem.” Biden tested negative for the virus on Sunday.

Biden said he’d “listen to the science” ahead of the upcoming debates, adding that the campaigns and the debate commission should be “very cautious” in making plans. “If scientists say that it’s safe, that distances are safe, then I think that’s fine,” he said. “I’ll do whatever the experts say.”

Conley said that because of Trump’s unusual level of treatment so early after discovery of his illness he was in “uncharted territory.” But the doctor also was upbeat at an afternoon briefing and said the president could resume his normal schedule once “there is no evidence of live virus still present.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 can be contagious for as many as — and should isolate for at least — 10 days.

Trump’s arrival back at the White House raised new questions about how the administration was going to protect other officials from a disease that remains rampant in the president’s body. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced she had tested positive for the virus Monday morning and was entering quarantine.

There were also lingering questions about potential long-term effects to the president — and even when he first came down with the virus.

Conley repeatedly declined to share results of medical scans of Trump’s lungs, saying he was not at liberty to discuss the information because Trump did not waive doctor-patient confidentiality on the subject. COVID-19 has been known to cause significant damage to the lungs of some patients. Conley also declined to share the date of Trump’s most recent negative test for the virus — a critical point for contact tracing and understanding where Trump was in the course of the disease.

At the hospital, doctors revealed that his blood oxygen level had dropped suddenly twice in recent days and that they gave him a steroid typically only recommended for the very sick.

Trump left the hospital after receiving a fourth dose of the antiviral drug remdesivir Monday evening, Conley said. He will receive the fifth and final dose Tuesday at the White House.

Vice President Mike Pence returned to the campaign trail moments after Trump announced he would soon leave the hospital. The vice president boarded Air Force Two to fly to Salt Lake City, where he is to face off against Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday.